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1 Aug 2019

Revealed: The scale of prison overcrowding in England and Wales

Two men read while sharing a cell in Littlehey prison

The scale of prison overcrowding in England and Wales is laid bare today (Thursday 1 August) as figures seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal that, on a typical day, more than 18,000 prisoners are crammed into cells holding too many people.

Most prisoners living in overcrowded conditions are required to share cells that were designed for one person. A smaller number may be forced to sleep three to a cell, in cells meant for two.

Overall, three in five men’s prisons are holding more people than they are certified to look after.

Local prisons – which tend to hold prisoners on short sentences, awaiting sentence, on remand awaiting trial or awaiting transfer to another prison category – are under the most pressure from overcrowding.

The worst-affected prison is Wandsworth, in south London, where on a typical day more than 1,100 prisoners are held in cells that are overcrowded.

Other jails with particularly high numbers of prisoners in overcrowded cells include G4S-run Oakwood (916), Leeds (786), Durham (785), Sodexo-run Forest Bank (739), Serco-run Doncaster (695), G4S-run Altcourse (686), Serco-run Thameside (596), Preston (517), Hull (511), Birmingham (484), Pentonville (483), Elmley (447), Cardiff (444), Bullingdon (397) and Exeter (375).

The figures indicate that prisons with high levels of overcrowding are also likely to see high levels of violence.

The five men’s prisons that have triggered Urgent Notifications by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons to date – Nottingham, Exeter, Birmingham, Bedford and Bristol – all appear on the list of overcrowded jails. Several prisons that have been placed in special measures – including Chelmsford, Elmley, Hewell, Liverpool, Winchester and Wormwood Scrubs – also feature.

Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice last week revealed that incidents of self-injury and assault in prisons have risen to record levels. Prisons recorded 57,968 incidents of self-injury in the 12 months to the end of March 2019 – at a rate of one every nine minutes.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Keeping thousands of men cooped up like battery hens in overcrowded cells is never going to help them to lead crime-free lives on release.

“This is an intolerable situation and, while the numbers have come down slightly in recent years, they remain frighteningly high. The figures reveal a clear relationship with overcrowding and violence in prisons.

“This is a challenge for the new Secretary of State for Justice, who now has a chance to build a positive legacy. Bold action to reduce the number of people behind bars would not only ease pressure on the prisons; it would save lives, protect staff and prevent crime.”

Overcrowded prisons

Prisons in England and Wales where people have been held in overcrowded cells are listed in the table below:

Prison Number of people in the prison at the end of June 2019 Average number of prisoners held in crowded accommodation in the 12 months ending March 2019*
Wandsworth 1,496 1,102
Oakwood 2,080 916
Leeds 1,066 786
Durham 918 785
Forest Bank 1,430 739
Doncaster 1,081 695
Altcourse 1,147 686
Thameside 1,200 596
Preston 697 517
Hull 989 511
Birmingham 925 484
Pentonville 1,065 483
Elmley 1,159 447
Cardiff 722 444
Bullingdon 1,055 397
Exeter 488 375
Ranby 1,014 329
Holme House 1,199 319
Lincoln 514 314
Usk/Prescoed 519 312
Woodhill 571 311
Swansea 419 300
Manchester 918 298
Winchester 474 292
Belmarsh 806 291
Brixton 737 284
Chelmsford 665 281
High Down 1,107 263
Isis 622 259
Nottingham 787 255
Norwich 719 251
Parc 1,631 238
Isle of Wight 1,016 224
Leicester 302 215
Bedford 347 211
Huntercombe 464 208
Stoke Heath 755 208
Bristol 463 207
Humber 937 159
Liverpool 670 131
Littlehey 1,205 130
Stocken 864 130
Whatton 836 130
Wormwood Scrubs 1,039 124
Wymott 1,149 121
Lindholme 938 113
Risley 1,066 107
Lancaster Farms 551 101
Bure 653 97
Peterborough 1,149 94
Lewes 514 89
Moorland 954 82
Swinfen Hall 574 80
Buckley Hall 449 79
Eastwood Park 396 71
Wayland 931 70
Guys Marsh 387 65
New Hall 358 64
Hewell 1,094 63
Maidstone 585 57
Low Newton 314 56
Channings Wood 690 48
Aylesbury 200 47
Highpoint 1,279 45
Wealstun 804 45
Kirkham 644 41
Bronzefield 530 40
Haverigg 264 40
Portland 518 40
Erlestoke 507 39
Garth 817 38
Hindley 547 38
The Mount 990 33
Northumberland 1,342 27
Coldingley 421 25
Styal 461 25
Lowdham Grange 878 24
Featherstone 611 17
Foston Hall 286 17
Brinsford 554 13
TOTAL 18,681

*Averages rounded to nearest whole number

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. Figures showing average levels of overcrowding in each prison in England and Wales were published in HMPPS Annual Digest 2018 to 2019, which can be found online.
  1. Monthly prison population figures, published by the Ministry of Justice, can be found online.

Contact

Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7880
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955
Email: robert.preece@howardleague.org

ISDN line available on 020 7923 4196 – uses a G722 system

For enquiries outside normal office hours, please call +44 (0)7918 681094

Picture: Andrew Aitchison

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